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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Medusa Deluxe ***

Starring: Clare Perkins, Keyla Meikle, Harriet Webb, Daniel D’Silva, Heider Ali, Luke Pasqualino

Director: Thomas Hardiman

Country: UK

Backstage at a hairdressing competition, one of the competitors has been murdered. With his corpse found scalped, the assembled models and rival salons are held in dressing rooms as the police conduct their investigation, which doesn’t stop them from exploring their own theories about who might be responsible, including his boyfriend, friends and frenemies.

An ambitious film told in one take, the camera latches on to characters as they drift from room to room, dropping in on moments of tension before drifting across to another locale. The camera is constantly moving; weaving around the ensemble cast, inserted within the drama instead of being a passive observer. At times this technique is razor smart, but at others – particularly when following characters down corridors – drags the pace right back. But one thing it does succeed in doing is giving us proper time with each of the assembled contestants.

Just like any good murder mystery, there are plenty of suspects, each with a grudge against the victim and against one another. Their machinations and misdirected suspicions are what drives the plot, but the wind really gets in the film’s sails when it starts to eventually address the actual central narrative rather than distracting with heightened inter-salon politics.

Its setting offers a beautiful backdrop of remarkably constructed hair, painstaking constructed and then deconstructed in front of us on screen. This is a high level competition, although it’s only in the final act that we finally see the kind of haute-couture show these competitors are gathered for. And those final twenty minutes are a breath of fresh air too, seeing these distasteful characters in their natural environment, complete with a full dance routine. It’s flamboyant, ridiculous and a real tonic to the previous ninety minutes of bitching. In fact, maybe it would have been better to give us a serving of the glamour right at the outset too?

Reminiscent of Drop Dead Gorgeous, the formula of a murder within a competition really works. Its Birdman-style tracking shot, however, limits its success. Though its characters are vivid – Clare Perkins’ supremely angry Cleve is a real stand-out – its script shallowly plays for melodrama instead of finding any real depth. And though the one-take camera-trickery is a masterful example of a notoriously difficult technique, was it best served on an ensemble drama without as much cause for it? It’s not 1917, after all. For all its glitz, glamour and pizzazz, this is an ambitious film that succeeds in every aesthetic element, but a great movie is more than just a sum of its parts.

UK Release: 9th June 2023 in cinemas and 4th August on VOD, released by MUBI.


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